Our View: If we want to like what we see, we have to start improving the picture

April 5, 2014 

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LAURIE MCADAM — lmcadam@modbee.com

  • Connecting for Good:

    Building Collaboration

    in Stanislaus County

    • When: April 17, 7:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

    •  Where: Martin G. Peterson Event Center, 720 12th St.

    •  Entry: $10 in advance (includes breakfast) or $15 at door

    •  Contact: www.connecting-for-good.eventbrite.com or (209) 576-1608

    • Information: Amanda Hughes, (209) 576-1608 or ahughes@stanislauscf.org

How clearly can anyone see the future?

Will we arrive at our future destination in a smart car, on smart roads, meeting happy people for a good meal? Or will we still be dodging potholes before grabbing something hot and greasy at the drive-through while trying to ignore the beggars on the curb?

Most of us have an idea of what we want our futures to look like; but we all know that future could turn out quite differently from our dreams.

As we approach 2020, even the most optimistic among us know there’s no clear road map for the temporal journey from here to there. And most of us are focused on the here and now, just hoping to get through to the weekend.

If we don’t think six, 10 or even 20 years into the future – or at least listen to those who are thinking that far out – we’re very likely to arrive in a future we don’t like.

Over the next few months, we hope to talk to a lot of people in our midst and beyond who are thinking through what lies ahead. What kind of future do they envision for our Valley by 2020? How do they intend to build it? How do we ensure that everyone owns a piece of it? Some are on the front lines now, thankfully. Others, so focused on doing their jobs better every single day, might not even realize they someday will be considered visionaries. We want to talk to them, too.

The topics are fairly obvious – education, transportation, connectivity, leadership, jobs and good food (which can include “healthy” food, if we must). Other topics are just as important, and that’s where you come in. Help us figure out the next steps for this ongoing conversation. Visit modbee.com/opinion and comment on our 2020 forum; offer topics we should hit and suggest who you believe we should talk to.

The topics we mentioned above are important, but Marian Kaanon, the CEO of the Stanislaus Community Foundation, suggested a much better starting point.

“Before defining your needs,” said Kaanon, “you have to start by defining your values.”

From those values, she noted, must arise your aspirations.

So what are our Valley values? What do we aspire to be and how do we make certain our aspirations match our values? How do the two connect?

• If you value family, you’ll want a livable wage, safe neighborhoods, good schools, and active churches and community organizations.

• If you value good health, you’ll want clean air and water, good doctors and healthy food.

• If you value security, you’ll want better jobs with good incomes so that poverty and despair don’t drive desperate people to crime; you’ll want a community that invests in proactive police and public safety.

• If you value your independence, you’ll want to make certain that our communities control their own destinies; that we have strong, honest voices in the halls of power.

These are how some of what we value link to our aspirations. Achieving them won’t be easy, but it can be done.

Unfortunately, it’s too seldom being done now. At least here.

The book “Confront Suburban Poverty in America,” noted Kaanon, mentions the city of Tracy in its opening paragraph. Just 30 miles away, a community that looks much like all of those around us, is, in effect, a symbol of new American poverty. That’s scary.

“I don’t know the solution to our problems,” said Kaanon, whose direct connection to the future includes two preschool-age children. “But I think we’re really at a tipping point. ... I’m hopeful that we’re breaking open, not breaking down.”

That’s one reason the foundation is hosting “Connecting for Good: Building Collaboration in Stanislaus County” on April 17 in downtown Modesto. Its featured speakers are lawyer/peacemaker Doug Noll of Fresno and Sam Kaner, a collaboration specialist; both are finding ways to help similar communities build the necessary community structures to create that better future. We’re eager to hear their ideas.

Kaanon is convinced our future will be better, and she’s working toward it.

“I’m fed up with hearing about this ‘sea of poverty’ that we live in,” she said. “No one is going to come in on a white horse and save us from ourselves. ... Everything we need to solve any problem is right here in front of us.”

Saturday, we saw perfect examples of what our Valley is capable of doing. More than 40,000 people turned out for the Love Your Town efforts in Modesto, Ceres, Gustine, Merced, Oakdale, Patterson, Escalon, Salida and beyond. It started in 2007 with Love Modesto and has grown to roughly 45 cities throughout the Valley and even to the coast. Such concerted efforts are defining our values and creating a brighter future.

“The new California will emerge from the Central Valley,” promised Kaanon.

If Saturday’s concerted efforts gave us a glimpse of the future, we want to see more.

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